When I applied to PA school over a decade ago, pre-PA resources were scarce. Thankfully, this has changed considerably in the past several years. The emergence of prep books, blogs, coaching, and online forums now provides future PA students with an abundance of information sources.
Online forums are hugely popular among pre-PA students and can allow for near-immediate feedback on questions while preserving the anonymity of the members. This anonymity can make it easy for both newbie and seasoned pre-PA students to ask questions about where to start or their plan of attack. However, these forums also allow for the occasional spread of misinformation by users.
Misinformation is not spread by malevolence. Users typically mean well and are attempting to help others, but may be spreading incorrect information that they once “heard”. These people are trying to help, not knowing that they came to believe some inaccurate information before passing it along.
Once in awhile, a user is knowledgeable about all things and is never wrong about anything (you’ve met that guy before, right?). This guy may state things so matter of factly that a newbie pre-PA student may take it as gospel, to later repeat and perpetuate the inaccuracy as fact.
Vetting information for accuracy and using reliable sources is essential to practicing medicine. As a PA, you will rely on evidence-based guidelines to help you deliver appropriate care to patients. These are guidelines based not on gut feelings, but in research and facts.
BS I Read on the Internet will be a recurring topic, focusing on some inaccuracy about pre-PA prep, PA school, or being a PA that I find on the internet. The posts will debunk the misinformation using reliable resources, with references provided to allow you to evaluate the facts for yourself. Now, onto our first item of BS.
This bit of BS was in response to a discussion on how to pay off your student loans quickly after graduation (which is totally doable, by the way). The supposition is that there will be less total PA job opportunities because there are increasing numbers of PA graduates. This is quite simply not true.
NCCPA surveyed PAs who were newly certified in 2015. Of those who had accepted a position at the time of the survey (4,800 PAs), over 76% had 2 or more job offers. Of those who did not yet have a position but were looking (1,582 PAs), 32.8% had turned down at least one offer at the time they completed the survey.
According to NCCPA, slightly over 4,000 PAs were newly certified in 2002, compared to 7,834 in 2015. Most of this increase is attributable to the development and accreditation of new PA programs. Despite the rapid increase of new graduates, the supply of PAs does not yet meet the demand.
You have probably seen the many articles on the top 5 or 10 best/growing jobs in the U.S., which list PAs over and over again. This is because the field is on a steep growth curve. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 30% increase in employment of PAs between 2014 and 2024, compared to 17% increase for all diagnosing & treating healthcare providers. (For reference, a 53% increase in employed PAs was projected between 2002 and 2012, totaling 31,000 additional PA jobs. This turned out to be an accurate projection as 94,400 total PAs were employed as of 2014.)
While the number of new PA graduates per year increases, so does the number of new nurse practitioners and physicians. The U.S. has both a growing and aging population, which increases the demand for healthcare services. Baby boomers will require more medical attention as they age, and several chronic diseases, like diabetes, are on the rise. These factors drive the current need for more healthcare providers.
Younger people who are alive today are projected to live even longer than previous generations due to advances in medicine and better treatments for chronic and incurable diseases. Federal and state legislation as well insurance providers are likely to continue to impact access to care. In the coming decades, the influence that these and other factors will have on the demand for healthcare providers is difficult to predict.
A recent article in the November issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) evaluates if a physician assistant surplus is a possibility in the future. With the growing number of PA programs and growth in the class size of existing programs, new PA graduates are estimated to total 11,700 by 2022, increased from 7,834 actual graduates in 2015.
If new PA graduates are produced on the same growth curve as today, there may be saturation in some specialties and communities in the future. This idea is based primarily on the supply of new PAs being produced, which is not the only factor affecting demand. It also supposes that PAs will continue to work in the same roles as they do currently. In the 50 years of the PA profession, the role of a PA has expanded and grown substantially and is likely to continue to evolve in the future.
At present, the need for PAs remains high and is unmet with the current number of practicing PAs. There is no current or history of oversaturation in the PA field despite the rapid growth of the profession in the past 5 decades. The demand for PAs may slow in the future if many different contributing factors align, but if that occurs, it is likely years off.
Based on actual facts and data, a new graduate PA should have plenty of full time and part time options to help pay off their student loans. To suggest finding part time work is hard simply because there is an increasing number of PA grads is just one person’s opinion. It is a statement that is intended to be dramatic and is an over simplification of what drives the demand for PAs.
You will be able to get plenty of work as a PA to pay off any student loans; if someone claims otherwise, consider it just BS you read on the internet.
You may notice that there are no comments at the end of my blog posts. This is by design to prevent you from encountering inaccuracies or misinformation about PA school and being a PA. However, I would love to hear from you if you'd like me to vet some questionable information about PA school or being a PA that you think might be BS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016–2017 Edition, Physician Assistants. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-2003 Edition. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/history/ooh_12172001.txt
Dall TM, Gallo PD, Chakrabarti R, et al. An aging population and growing disease burden will require a large and specialized health care workforce by 2025. Health Aff (Millwood). 2013;32(11):2013–2020.
The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. 2015 Statistical Profile of Recently Certified Physician Assistants. http://www.nccpa.net/Uploads/docs/2015StatisticalProfileofRecentlyCertifiedPhysicianAssistants.pdf
Physician Assistant Education Association. By the Numbers 2015: 30th Report on Physician Assistant Educational Programs in the United States. Washington, DC: PAEA; 2015.
Salsberg E, Quigley L. Are we facing a physician assistant surplus? JAAPA, 2016; 29(11), 40-44.